Saturday 16th October 2010
Every October the National CAMRA Cider and Perry group organise a trip around one part of the country visiting cider producers and good cider pubs, this year they chose Kent. They started at the Thanet Cider Festival, at the Churchill Tavern, Ramsgate, on the Friday night, where they sampled some of the 64 Ciders and 14 Perries and took the opportunity to hold one of their customary meetings upstairs in one of the conference rooms.
The following day the group and others who had booked on the trip, all went on a coach trip. We started at Biddenden Vineyard, Kent's oldest commercial vineyard, established by the Barnes family in 1969. MD Julian Barnes explained that whilst the vineyards were the main attraction, he introduced cider making over 20 years ago.
As is the norm in Kent they use culinary and dessert apples, which Julian believes give a more even flavour than West Country ciders. They don't grow apples themselves any more but do use locally grown apples, mainly Cox, Bramley and Russet, the blend changing as the season goes on. Julian led us into the barn and explained the cider making process.
The apples are washed as they go up on a conveyor belt into a scratter which crushes them to form a pulpy mush. The pulp is built up into layers, known as a "cheese" which is then pressed to extract the juice. It is then left to ferment and mature for several months in huge vats for the yeast to convert the sugars present in the juice into alcohol. Biddenden use Champagne-style yeast to achieve consistency, rather than leave it to the naturally occurring yeast in the apples. We finished in the shop and tasting room where we tried some of the products. They produce Biddenden Strong Kentish Cider, which is available as Dry, Medium or Sweet at 8.0% abv and also Biddenden Bushels which is Sweet and 6.0%, as well as other bottled products.
Back on the coach, we went onto the Swan Inn, Wittersham, a pub I have wanted to go to for some time being CAMRA's Kent Cider Pub of the Year 2008 and 2009.
It is a thriving village community two-bar local, with a side-room extension where a buffet was laid on. They had seven Real Ciders (as well as at least five Real Ales). It holds an annual Cider festival in May (as well as annual beer festivals).
Dan Baldwin, producer of East Stour Cider, came along to talk about his set up, his principal is to just have a go. The cider is made as mother nature intended, with only the natural yeast and as the season changes so do the apples and so does the cider. Some of the apples used are Bramley for bite, Russet for sharpness, Worcester for its slightly strawberry flavour, Falstaff, plus Cox which Dan says is a brilliant asset. He also makes a small amount of Perry, mainly for festivals.
Our final visit was to Rough Old Wife Cider, Old Wives Lees, near Chilham, just outside Swale branch area. Here Annie Reed showed us round their ancient orchard and Simon Reed (co-producer) showed us round the cidery.
The cider making process is all done by hand then it is fermented and matured in oak barrels, all from one whisky distillery, giving a very distinct flavour.
There are four varieties, Rough Old Wife 7.5% (mainly Bramley), Tasty Old Wife 7.1% (Bramley, Crispin and Worcester), Blushing Old Wife 6.3% (containing around 10% raspberries) and Spicy Old Wife (containing spices so best served warm).
Of course we ended up in the barn for tastings, served by Andy Maclean (co-producer).
All in all a very good day out!
Biddenden Vineyards Ltd, Gribble Bridge Lane, Biddenden, Kent TN27 8DF
Tel: 01580 291726
The Swan Inn, 1 Swan Street, Wittersham, Isle of Oxney, nr Tenterden, Kent TN30 7PH
On the B2082, approx 6 miles from both Rye and Tenterden. Tel: 01797 270913
Rough Old Wife, Cork Farm, Long Hill, Old Wives Lees, Canterbury, Kent CT4 8BN
Tel: 01227 732414 (Cidery) / 01227 700757
Mobile: 07768 364353 (Simon Reed, Co-producer)